The entrance antiphon from the vigil Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord tells us exactly what this feast celebrates.
“Arise, Jerusalem, and look to the east and see your children gathered from the rising of the sun to its setting.” This feast expresses the dream of God quite well. We know that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead for the sake of all of God’s creation. The Feast of the Epiphany is the human revelation of God’s intention. The inclusion of gift bearers from the east, shepherds from the fields and other groups that wouldn’t be considered part of the accepted religious community shows us the unity God has in mind for us if we truly live His dream.
As a child, I remember making sure that the magi were not a part of the Christmas morning manger scene. It was not their time yet. Their arrival would be celebrated separately from the shepherds and the angels. They came from afar, from a foreign country, and were led by a light in the sky. Their identities and travel methods seemed so foreign to me as a child. I think it was purposely done that way so that we would celebrate something out of the ordinary.
There have been times in our history as a country, as a Church and as a world, where we have done better with inclusion than we are right now. We go through periods of being afraid of the stranger or excluding individuals because of their past or present choices. In our fear of the stranger, we might be tempted to give up the wisdom of God and to act out of our own brokenness. Even though we celebrate Epiphany, we might still believe that the good news of Jesus Christ and the birth of a Savior in human flesh is only meant for a certain group of people who might act a certain way, speak a certain language or practice a certain faith or religion.
How is the dream and plan of God revealed to others if it isn’t enfleshed in us? How can people believe that they are included in God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness, if those of us who say we wish to follow in the footsteps of Jesus don’t act that way? I think we might have a fear of being too gracious or too understanding or too welcoming. Many of us might have been raised to believe that you have to suffer a lot before you are worthy of being one of the disciples, or we have to perform good deeds to earn our place with God. Falling in love with Jesus and entering a personal relationship with Him will lead us to love friends and enemies. Loving as Jesus loves will lead us to sacrificial loving for the sake of others, including those who hate us. In experiencing the deep love, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus, our hearts open to others who are in need of conversion to love. It takes a while for us to trust love, to act out of love and to suffer for the sake of love. Someone was patient with us as we came to learn the truth, and we must be patient with others as they come to know that truth.
The gifts that we bear are not gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts that we have to offer, especially for those to whom we are a witness of faith, are the virtues that we have developed. We give others compassion, understanding, forgiveness, generosity and faithfulness. Be an Epiphany of Jesus to others as someone has already been for you. Be a bearer of light in our world, so hungry for goodness and life.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.